Welcome to the wonderful world of URL shorteners, where internet links hide behind abridged monikers to sheath their unwieldy length. You may have seen them fluttering about on the Internet; they’re currently infesting Twitter feeds, blog posts, Facebook status updates, and yes, even in print publications.Long winded web addresses, with tracking codes and web stats, have become so passé. Linking to one will make you seem like a Jurassic entity, which is why URL shorteners have shot up in popularity. The first of these services, TinyURL began rapidly proliferating when social networking and blogging stormed the web scene. Users everywhere needed a simple way to share their favorite links and ensure that their web friends and followers had an accessible way to navigate their content. With the advent of microblogging sites where every character counts, more of these services have emerged to become an essential part of internet life.
The important thing to remember about the Internet is that it sometimes works in overtime. URL Shorteners, while accommodating, can sometimes clash with the synergy of servers working together. Here’s why: URL shortening services automatically add another layer of indirection to the primary URL you are accessing. A regular hyperlink already has three entities to interact with: the DNS resolver, the publisher’s DNS server and the publisher’s website. With a shortening service, you’re adding another layer of stats that act like a fourth entity the link must interact with. But these are not the only parties that are affected by URL shorteners; the publisher of the site, the place where the shortened link is used and the user who clicks the link is impaired in some way by all of this rerouting.
That’s not to say that URL shorteners are all entirely abad thing. After all, they make link sharing on Twitter a cinch and offer helpful services like traffic statistics. However, this is something to keep in mind when you’re shortening links. We take a look five popular URL shorteners, evaluate the merits and shortcomings of each, and ponder on the future of this link shrinking technology.
The Dame Judi Dench of a URL shortening services offers more than just shortening -- registered users get access to sharing and tracking features. Users can also view complete, real-time traffic and referrer data for each link, as well as location and meta data. You can also access a complete history of every bit.ly link you’ve ever created, as well as see how the links have grown overtime. Though this is all a packaged deal, you may forget to log in when you shorten a link, therefore losing your right to track stats, but at least you don’t have to use an email address to register. Bit.ly is already integrated into many third-party Twitter applications, such as Tweetdeck, and is the official URL shortener for Twitter.
Snipurl is an address web shortener that allows you to modify the URL once you’ve shortened it, which comes in handy if the link changes but the hyperlink is already posted somewhere that cannot be edited — like a magazine, for instance. Like Bit.ly, you can also create a user account and track your stats and web links, but also browse the “snips” of other users. Snipurl also allows you to use a different variation of the URL shortener, as well enter a private code to keep the masses from peeping in on your links.
If you take a quick glance at the link, you might read it as “Is Good.” Well, in its credit, Is.gd does work efficiently as a URL shortener, since it manages to condense the link to the fewest characters possible (one character fewer than Bit.ly!) without having it completely disappear into thin air. Is.gd also lowers the character count when texting web addresses to a mobile phone and hides the real URLs of affiliate links from visitors to your site, as well as obscures your real email address from bots so that you aren’t spammed.
If your blog or Twitter feed followers are wary of hidden links, you can also enable the link to display a preview when they hover over it, though this function is heavily dependent on user’s Cookies settings. Is.gd does not have a tracking functionality, but it keeps your links as short as possible if you’re trying to squeeze out as many characters as you possibly can in a Twitter feed.
Ow.ly is great for Tweeting and keeping track of who clicks and retweets your Meme links while managing to use only four domain characters, just like Is.gd. You can also upload images and files to share directly with your feed, which is an excellent option for those who don’t want to go through the grueling process of finding a site to host their files.
Ow.ly currently allows you to upload photos and supported documents, and may soon offer video hosting. Though this all sounds like a great package, you might grimace when you find that Ow.ly links from Twitter will most likely be branded with the toolbar. However, if what you’re going for is retweets, then it might prove helpful in gathering many hits to your link.
Notlong is an incredibly simple and straightforward URL shortening service that does not track clicks and does not provide retweets. While this shortening service is wonderful if you want no frills, it does have a few issues. We feel like the link shortening service may not shorten the link as much as it could—after all, the domain “notlong” is already seven characters long, which is long compared to ow.ly and is.gd. However, if you just need a link that you can give its own alias, notlong.com works just fine as an alternative to tinyurl (where many vanity extensions have already been claimed).
TinyURL was the first to come on the scene and pave the way for URL shorteners. Its reign fell short when Twitter suddenly switched over to Bit.ly. It's not certain why Twitter made the movie, but Bit.ly has since managed to raise $2 Million from prominent investors. We know that the money is probably for server space, but what is Twitter's stake in all of this
The founder of Cligs (blog.cli.gs) put it bluntly: “Short URLs are a feature, and are definitely not a business on their own.” There is simply not a profitable market for these kinds of services beyond obtrusive advertising, which can be extremely deterring for new users. With the competition heating up between services, which ones will be around long enough to actually outlast all the rest? Tr.im attributed its demise to Twitter favoring Bit.ly above the rest , therefore putting its services in jeopardy and eventually forcing it to close its doors. It’s great for Bit.ly fans, since the service offers generous features, but what about the users, links and data left behind on the defunct sites? What happens to all of that information? Tr.im has promised to keep its links up by the end of the year, but if it doesn’t manage to sell its assets then all that work will have been for naught, leaving its users around the globe in a slight state of disparity.
There’s also the issue of how problematic these URL shorteners may become; it won’t be long until users will be faced with increasing malware attacks disguised as funny, ha-ha links on their Twitter feed. Users have already been scammed by Twitter bots and malware attacks, why bother adding another layer of doubt to the mix? If URL shorteners aren’t profitable, then there’s no way they can afford to develop a smart filtering system to distinguish the bad links from the good.
If Bit.ly manages to outlast the rest, it will have to change its strategy to withstand the downfall of an already unstable empire of services. Though URL shorteners get the job done and make the Internet an easier world to navigate, their longevity relies on keeping the business out of the hands of destructive forces, like spam bots, malware, and expensive server space. By necessity, the URL shortening empire will stay around for as long as anyone can afford it because of its usefulness.